How many calories are in a salad with just lettuce?

Lettuce is one of the most popular salad greens and is a staple ingredient in many salad recipes. It’s loved for its mild, slightly sweet flavor and tender, crisp texture. But when it comes to calories and nutritional value, how does plain lettuce stack up?

Lettuce is commonly thought of as a low-calorie food, with a salad made up of just lettuce assumed to be a very light meal. This is generally true – lettuce on its own is very low in calories. However, the exact calorie count can vary depending on the type of lettuce.

Factors That Affect Lettuce Calorie Count

Several factors impact the calorie content of different types of lettuce:

Type of Lettuce

There are many varieties of lettuce available, and calorie content can range quite a bit between types. Some examples:

– Romaine lettuce has about 8 calories per cup.
– Iceberg lettuce has around 10 calories per cup.
– Butter lettuce contains around 7 calories per cup.
– Green leaf lettuce has 9 calories per cup.
– Red leaf lettuce has about 9 calories per cup as well.

This shows that while calorie content changes depending on variety, most types of lettuce are very low in calories.

Serving Size

As with all foods, calorie count will depend on the serving size of lettuce consumed. One cup of shredded lettuce is standard for a salad, but servings may be larger or smaller depending on appetite. For a very large salad, multiplying the per-cup calorie count gives a better idea of totals.

Added Ingredients

A plain lettuce salad will be very low in calories. But many salads contain ingredients like dressing, croutons, cheese, protein foods like chicken, and more. These additions can quickly increase the calorie content. Even an oil-based dressing can add 100 or more calories to a salad.

So while lettuce alone is low-calorie, a salad in its entirety may or may not fit that bill. It’s important to account for any added ingredients when determining the calories in a salad.

Calories in Different Types of Lettuce

Here is a closer look at the calories in some common varieties of lettuce per 1-cup serving:

Romaine Lettuce

– Calories: 8
– Protein: 1 gram
– Fiber: 1 gram
– Fat: 0 grams
– Carbohydrates: 2 grams

Crisp romaine is likely the most popular choice for salad greens. It has elongated, dark green leaves with a crunchy texture. Romaine has a very low calorie count, providing 8 calories per cup. It’s high in vitamin A, vitamin K, and folate.

Iceberg Lettuce

– Calories: 10
– Protein: 1 gram
– Fiber: 1 gram
– Fat: 0 grams
– Carbohydrates: 2 grams

Known for its very mild flavor and extreme crunch, iceberg lettuce is also very low in calories at just 10 per cup. It has high water content which contributes to its low calorie content. Iceberg lettuce provides vitamin K, potassium, and manganese.

Butter Lettuce

– Calories: 7
– Protein: 1 gram
– Fiber: 1 gram
– Fat: 0 grams
– Carbohydrates: 1 gram

Butter lettuce, also called Boston or bibb lettuce, has tender, delicate leaves. With just 7 calories per cup and a sweet buttery taste, it makes a nice base for salads. It contains vitamins A and K, potassium, and folate.

Green Leaf Lettuce

– Calories: 9
– Protein: 1 gram
– Fiber: 1 gram
– Fat: 0 grams
– Carbohydrates: 2 grams

Green leaf lettuce has ruffled, loosely packed leaves with a subtle sweet flavor. With 9 calories per cup, it provides vitamins A, C, and K. It makes a tasty and nutritious addition to all types of salads.

Red Leaf Lettuce

– Calories: 9
– Protein: 1 gram
– Fiber: 1 gram
– Fat: 0 grams
– Carbohydrates: 2 grams

Similar to green leaf lettuce, red leaf has green leaves with splashes of red. It has a delicate, almost sweet taste. The calorie content comes in at 9 per cup. It contains vitamins A, C, K, potassium, and folate.

Nutritional Profile of Lettuce

Lettuce provides a range of important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, despite being low in calories:

– Vitamin K – Lettuce has high amounts of vitamin K which is important for bone health and blood clotting. One cup provides over 100% of the RDI.

– Vitamin A – Leafy greens like lettuce are high in antioxidant vitamin A, with one cup providing 10-20% of the RDI. Vitamin A supports eye and skin health.

– Folate – Romaine and other lettuces contain good amounts of folate, a B vitamin that’s important for cellular function and preventing anemia.

– Potassium – Lettuce provides potassium which regulates fluid balance, heart health, and nerve transmission.

– Flavonoids – Lettuce, especially darker green varieties, contains flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol. These act as antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory effects.

Though low in calories, lettuce packs a nutritional punch of important vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

Calories in a Salad With Just Lettuce

When served alone without any additions like dressing or toppings, a lettuce salad is very low in calories.

For example, a salad made with 3 cups of shredded romaine lettuce contains about:

– 24 calories
– 3 grams protein
– 3 grams fiber
– 72% DV vitamin A
– 214% DV vitamin K

A salad with 2 cups of chopped iceberg lettuce provides about:

– 20 calories
– 2 grams protein
– 2 grams fiber
– 2% DV vitamin A
– 64% DV vitamin K

For a salad with 3 cups mixed greens – 1 cup each of red leaf, green leaf, and butter lettuce:

– 21 calories
– 3 grams protein
– 3 grams fiber
– 120% DV vitamin A
– 318% DV vitamin K

The exact calorie count can be determined by the portions of each kind of lettuce used. But a simple salad with just lettuce – no added oils, cheeses, meats, etc. – will be very low in calories and provide important nutrients.

Lettuce supplies fiber, which provides a feeling of fullness. So enjoy it generously in salads to reap the nutritional benefits and satisfy hunger, all while keeping calories low.

Adding Ingredients to Lettuce Salads

While lettuce alone is low-calorie, adding other salad ingredients can change the calorie profile quickly. Some common extras to consider:


Salad dressings, even healthy vinaigrettes made with oil and vinegar, pack in extra calories:

– 2 Tbsp ranch dressing – 140 calories
– 2 Tbsp Caesar dressing – 160 calories
– 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette – 120 calories

Choosing dressings made without oil helps keep salads lower in calories.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds make great crunchy, protein-packed salad toppers. But they are high in calories:

– 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds – 148 calories
– 2 Tbsp chopped walnuts – 82 calories
– 2 Tbsp roasted unsalted almonds – 109 calories

Sprinkling small amounts of nuts or seeds helps add nutrition while controlling calories.


Cheese is delicious on salads but also high in calories:

– 2 Tbsp feta – 80 calories
– 2 Tbsp cheddar – 114 calories
– 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan – 60 calories

Use cheese sparingly or swap in lower-calorie options like part-skim ricotta or nutritional yeast.

Crunchy Toppings

Croutons and crispy wonton strips can pile on calories:

– 1 oz croutons – 110 calories
– 10 wonton strips – 60 calories

Skip high-calorie crunch toppers or choose lower-calorie alternatives like sliced bell peppers or radishes.

Protein Foods

Chicken, fish, eggs, beans, and other proteins are great for a filling salad but they come with extra calories:

– 3 oz grilled chicken breast – 140 calories
– 3 oz salmon – 175 calories
– 2 hardboiled eggs – 155 calories
– 1⁄2 cup chickpeas – 200 calories

Stick to modest portions of proteins or use lower-calorie options like shrimp, tuna, or turkey to keep calories under control.

Low-Calorie Salad Ideas

It’s easy to create delicious, satisfying salads using lettuce as the base while still keeping calories low. Some tasty ideas:

Greek Salad

Make a classic Greek salad with cucumber, tomato, red onion, olives, feta, olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano over romaine lettuce. Watch portions of higher calorie toppings like feta and olives.

Southwest Chicken Salad

Top lettuce with black beans, salsa, corn, bell pepper, shredded chicken and a lime vinaigrette or salsa dressing for a Mexican-inspired salad.

Asian Chicken Salad

Combine lettuce, shredded cabbage, carrots, edamame, bell pepper, grilled chicken, peanuts, and cilantro. Toss with a ginger sesame dressing.

Summer Berry Salad

Mix lettuce, strawberries, blueberries, feta, and walnuts. Drizzle with a fruity vinaigrette and sprinkle with mint.

Mediterranean Tuna Salad

Flake tuna over lettuce, chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, olives, and feta cheese. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs for the dressing.

Cobb Salad

Top chopped lettuce with turkey, hard boiled egg, avocado, tomato, bacon, and blue cheese. Serve with a tangy vinaigrette on the side.

Tips for Low-Calorie Lettuce Salads

Here are some great tips for keeping lettuce salads light:

– Use lettuce as the bulk of the salad. Fill your plate with greens rather than Going light on lettuce but heavy on toppings.

– Go easy on high-fat, high-calorie ingredients like cheese, creamy dressings, bacon, and avocado. Use just a sprinkling.

– Avoid deep fried crunchy toppings like croutons or tortilla strips, which drive up calories.

– Choose lower-calorie dressings like vinaigrettes made with vinegar and limit oil. Or use salsa, mustard, or hummus as dressing.

– Load up on non-starchy veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and carrots. They add nutrients and volume without many calories.

– Skip the sugary dried fruits like craisins and stick to fresh fruits like berries and apple slices to add a touch of sweetness.

– Add plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, edamame, or tofu for staying power. They have fiber to keep you full.

– Keep portions of calorie-dense proteins like chicken, beef, and cheese modest. Supplement with lower-cal options.

– Enhance flavor with fresh herbs, spices, mustard, lemon/lime juice, garlic, and other low-calorie options instead of high-fat dressings.

The Bottom Line

Lettuce is an ideal base for healthy, low-calorie salads. Leafy greens like romaine, iceberg, leaf lettuces, and more provide around 5-10 calories per cup. The exact calorie count depends on variety and serving size.

While lettuce on its own is very low in calories, adding high fat and high calorie ingredients like dressings, cheese, croutons, and proteins can increase the calorie count significantly.

Enjoy lettuce generously and pair it with lighter toppings and low-calorie dressing options. This allows you to create nutritious, delicious salads that maximize nutrients without overdoing the calories.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many calories are in a salad with just lettuce?

A salad made with just lettuce contains about 5-10 calories per cup. So a typical salad with around 3 cups of shredded lettuce contains only around 20-30 calories without any additional ingredients.

What is the lowest calorie lettuce option?

Butter lettuce and spinach are the lowest calorie lettuces, with about 7 calories per cup. Romaine, iceberg, and leaf lettuces also clock in at under 10 calories per cup.

Is lettuce good for weight loss?

Yes, lettuce is an excellent food for weight loss diets. It provides bulk and satiety due to its high water and fiber content, but contains only minimal calories even in large servings. This makes it ideal for creating low-calorie, high-volume meals.

What can I add to my lettuce salads for extra nutrition?

Non-starchy veggies like tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, radishes, and cucumbers make great low-calorie salad add-ins for extra vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Beans, eggs, nuts, and avocado also add healthy fats, protein, and nutrients.

Which lettuce has the most nutrition?

Romaine lettuce is arguably the most nutritious lettuce variety. It’s packed with vitamin A, vitamin K, folate, and offers cancer-fighting antioxidants. Spinach and darker leafy greens also provide an extra nutritional boost.

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